Forced Marriage

Forced marriage was a unique type of sexual and gender-based violence practiced during the Khmer Rouge rule. To ensure the emergence of the next generation of workers in a union that would naturally provide less family loyalty, and as a corollary decreased opposition to State practices which could be considered a threat to family members, couples were arbitrarily married without choice or consent and pressured to consummate their marriage.

Systematic and Widespread Practice of Forced Marriages

Statements of survivors collected in Civil Party applications showed that such marriages were organized and held in a systematic manner throughout the country. They took place in impersonal mass ceremonies organized by Khmer Rouge cadres that would involve anywhere from 3 – 160 couples. Shortly before the ceremony couples would be approached and informed that they were to be married.  With the exception of rare instances, usually involving Khmer Rouge cadre, in which men were allowed to select who their wife would be, most couples had no choice in who their partner was, and many had never met their future spouses before. Refusal often resulted in imprisonment, torture or death. Although the details of the ceremonies varied according to location and time, these main features of the mass weddings remained unchanged.

Forced Consummation of Marriage

The vast majority of the statements also indicate that after the ceremony couples were forced to spend the night together and were expected to consummate their marriage. Due to the fear of punishment and knowledge of covert supervision by Khmer Rouge cadres, couples often unwillingly did so, in many cases resulting in a pregnancy. Those who refused, in most cases women, were subjected to coercive measures, such as violence or threats of violence. Peg Levine in her thesis “A Contextual Study into the Weddings and Births under the Khmer Rouge: The Ritual Revolution”, 2007, that 76 out of 192 respondents reported that sex was prescribed. In some instances women reported that Khmer Rouge cadres assisted husbands in raping their new wives if they refused to have sex.

Unknown Prevalence of Forced Marriages

Up to today, it is unclear how many women and men were affected by this practice. Given that such marriages were organized throughout the country in nearly every village, that the age range for selection as a potential spouse was between 15 to 35 years, that it affected all social groups, and that unmarried as well as formerly married women and men were counted among the victims, one can get a picture of the magnitude of this issue.